After the death of Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) lingered in grief for months, losing interest in everything from the running of the estate to the son she gave birth to on the very same day Matthew met his tragic end.
When she was finally through the worst of it, however, an overabundance of new suitors swooped into Season 4, ready to bring romance back to Mary’s life and fill Matthew’s shoes. Mary wasn’t indifferent to the attentions of sweet Tony Gillingham (Tom Cullen), and she certainly had sparks fly with Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden).
There’s one gentleman caller, however, that the show seems to have overlooked that we would like to put forth as a possibility in Season 5: Tom Branson, erstwhile chauffeur and widowed husband of Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay).
One of the highlights of Season 3 was the sweet, developing friendship between Mary and Branson after Sybil’s death. She’d lost her favorite sister, he’d lost his wife, and they were left with only baby Sybbie to comfort them. Mary was firm, however, that he still had a place at Downton, and when she lost Matthew under similarly tragic circumstances, Branson was the only one in the house who understood her grief completely.
Her worst fear, she confided in him, was that Matthew was the only one who had ever seen anything soft in her, and if he was gone, maybe that softness was never truly there in the first place, and it was a sentiment Branson wholeheartedly understood — for a long time, Sybil was the only one who’d ever seen him as anything but a rabble-rousing Irish immigrant.
Branson was the one who took her for rides around the estate and encouraged her to take an interest in something, anything, from politics to making hats, something she could hold onto as a reason to live, and he was the first person whose advice got through to her. He helped her become instrumental in making decisions about the care and keeping of Downton and together they flourished in their respective leadership roles.
Watching their friendship unfold in Season 4 was lovely and natural. There’d always been a mutual sort of respect between the two of them, even before he ran away with Sybil, but they now speak to each other as equals, they’re each other’s biggest defender and protector. They rely on each other, they dote on each other’s children and they understand each other so well.
The affection and friendship is already so clearly there, not to mention a frisson of chemistry. In a series that’s already populated by such a sprawling cast, it would be a refreshing change to see a relationship explored between two characters we already know, who already have a history, without bringing in yet more people to this overly populated world. Downton had a little trouble in Season 4 giving equal time to all its story lines and trimming down some of Mary’s suitors could only help.
Not to mention the major dramatics a love story between Mary and Branson would cause. He was her sister’s husband and he clearly loved Sybil with all his heart. He’s already had trouble moving on, and the guilt involved in falling for Mary would be (painful) fun to watch. It’d be quite the scandal amongst the upper-class, too — Lord Crawley’s third daughter running away with the chauffeur is one thing, but the mother to the future Earl of Downton falling for a political refugee? Who was also married to her sister? Think of the ripple effects!
As a bonus, Carson would be utterly beside himself — Mary has always been his special favorite, and he has no great love for Branson even after the birth of Sybbie.
While all signs point to Mary choosing between Tony and Charles this season, we’re hopeful it’s not too late for Branson to enter the playing field.